Those who are hoping that an agreement between the exogenous opposition and the Syrian government can bring an end to the civil war misunderstand the purpose of the Geneva communique and subsequent talks: the aim is to get foreign powers to stop exacerbating and perpetuating the crisis, principally the United States and its regional allies. If they agreed to this, a deal between the regime and the SNC would be totally irrelevant—absent foreign funds, supplies, and fighters, the rebellion could not sustain itself.
There is abundant empirical evidence that most of the Syrian population supports the government over the armed opposition. But for those who find this too difficult to swallow, as has been argued elsewhere, it almost doesn’t matter how people feel about the regime precisely because it is the default — it will remain in power unless and until a sufficient portion of the population actively sides with the opposition (barring direct foreign military intervention). That is, what really matters is how the Syrian people feel about the rebels – and on this point, the trends are unambiguous and highly-unfavorable:
"A growing trend in recent months are local ceasefires between particular populations and the government"
Even the (extremely) limited support the armed uprising initially enjoyed is fast-eroding as people come to face the realities of living in “liberated” Syria: looting and more nefarious forms of exploitation and extortion by various militias, ethnic and religious cleansing/persecution, authoritarian zealots imposing oppressive interpretations of al-sharia on Muslims and non-Muslims alike, a total lack of critical supplies, services or infrastructure, incessant infighting among rebel groups, and a constant fear of government bombardment in contested areas. No one is clamoring to experience this for themselves—quite the reverse:
A growing trend in recent months (although ongoing for some time) are local ceasefires between particular populations and the government — in exchange for amnesty, protection from the really bad guys, and renewed social services, communities are agreeing to lay down their arms or even turn their weapons against other rebel forces. It has reached a point that opposition sympathizers are even beginning to acknowledge that this is how the war in Syria is likely to end—not in a grand bargain, but through myriad agreements which gradually erode the rebellion tactically and ideologically even as they bolster the regime.
“Changing the balance of power” in Syria (be it through direct foreign military intervention or providing better armaments to the rebels) would not change this dynamic – nor would it result in more concessions from the government – it would only magnify the suffering of the Syrian people by slowing down the peace process and temporarily putting more zones into the “liberated” hellscape — an experience which would only intensify the desire to make peace with the state among those directly affected.
Even the SNC is beginning to read the writing on the wall, finally proposing a transition plan which does not explicitly demand President al-Asad to step down, nor does it preclude him from a future role in the government — at last complying with the terms of the Geneva Communique.
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Unfortunately, it seems as though Riyadh and Washington are not yet inclined to comply themselves, and will persist in their ill-fated attempts to secure a client state in post-Asad Syria, even if it means extending the conflict indefinitely – with all that entails for the Syrian people.
Thank God this decision is out of their hands.
A version of this article was originally published by SISMEC.